One interesting aspect of working with young adolescents involves observing their efforts to discover and define their identity. It’s a fascinating, often painful, and frequently humorous developmental challenge for each individual.

One early step in the process involves separating from their parents’ identity. We’ve all endured and watched this effort, and chuckled as we realize the contradictions involved. That’s because the first step in defining their individual identity almost always involves trying to be exactly like everyone else.

Their efforts to become “unique” result in a need to dress, act, and talk just like their friends. Ideally, as the process continues, they eventually move beyond this imitation stage and develop their own mature sense of individuality.

However, I suspect that many of never escape completely the need to conform. I’m acutely aware of this tendency whenever I focus on my loss of “normal life.”

In this sense, normal means average. I somehow seek to be like everyone else, and any differences cause a perception that I’m weird, strange, or abnormal.

Intellectually, I know better. I recognize the folly of the adolescent search for uniqueness in conformity. I understand that average is a myth, that each person is an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses. I believe that every circumstance contains challenges and blessings.

But when grief and loss wrap icy fingers around my throat and I struggle simply to breathe, despair often overwhelms logic. When a wheelchair dominates my view, I lose sight of all that remains as I focus only on what’s been lost. When illness pervades my world, it’s easy to forget that illness isn’t all there is. It’s easy to feel trapped, isolated, and desperate.

At those times, all I see are my differences from “everyone else” and from “what used to be.” Everyone else is happy, healthy, and secure. I used to be strong and independent.

Everyone else is “normal.” I used to be “normal.” And now I’m abnormal, and I’ll always be abnormal.

Normal life is an illusion, average is a trap, and life never really was as perfect as I recall. When I recognize this painful reality, I escape the prison of normal.

Circumstances change. Each life is unique. Joy and sorrow coexist in all things. I grieve the losses, celebrate the joys, and adjust to situations. Then I can do my best with what remains.

Question: What’s a joy that you’ve overlooked because of a loss?

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